Verse 7: The Message
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.
John’s affectionate address marks a clear transition in the progression of his letter and signals that John is not merely writing to counter an opposing faction, but to encourage and build up his beloved children in the faith. Our reading of this letter must reflect the tone that John is setting. As I have said many times, the tone we read Scripture with impacts our interpretation as much as the version we use!
His intense paternal affection is expressed by his focused delivery of truth in order that he might plant them securely on the firm foundation of Christ’s word so that they can be certain that his life abides in them when he returns.
“Not a new command”: the charge many Christians faced in John’s day was that they were guilty of abandoning the law for the new and heretical teachings of Christ and his apostles. But John’s doctrine is not new; they believed their doctrine was the clear expression of all Scripture in the light:
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), who was a highly educated Christian convert from paganism and a pioneer of Christian scholarship, wrote:
You had the commandment through the law and the prophets.
Cyril of Alexandria (375–444; fl. 412–444), who was a patriarch of Alexandria and whose extensive exegesis stood strong on the unity of Christ, wrote:
John is talking here about love. The commandment was not new, because long before that time it had been proclaimed by the prophets
Bede the Venerable (c. 672/673–735) wrote:
God’s commandment to love was old because it had been around since the beginning of time, but it was also new, because once the darkness was taken away, it poured the desire for new light into our hearts.
“This is the old commandment”: the law and prophets are misunderstood by those who do not have the light of life in them because the primacy of love is lost on souls who do not know Christ. Nevertheless, Jesus’ commandment made is the same as those given in the Law and the Prophets:
Matthew 22:36-40 (CSB) Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.
Romans 13:8-10 (CSB) Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and any other commandment, are summed up by this commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
The great commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; such love in turn produces love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbors, and your enemies.
The apostolic commandment that John is delivering perfects the doctrine of God that has been delivered since the beginning because it is now accompanied by the life given to us through the atoning sacrifice of Christ (2:1-2).